Peter Rose, Chairman of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) Steering Committee writes:
“Residents will recall that earlier in the year, the environmental report within the NDP was updated and submitted to a second Regulation 16 consultation. This consultation ended in May but there were significant concerns expressed by Historic England (HE) and Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) concerning minerals safeguarding and the archaeological assessment of the Community Hub site. The examiner requested clarification on these two issues. We consulted with our consultants Andrea Pellegram and AECOM (the consultants that wrote the technical part of the Environmental Report) and submitted their responses to the examiner by the middle of August. South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) was also asked to respond and in the process decided that they needed a barrister’s opinion. This opinion was not forthcoming until the end of August and consequently SODC did not submit their response to the examiner until two weeks ago. The barrister was concerned that we had not fulfilled all legal obligations in writing the Environmental Report and recommended that further work should be done on this report concerning the archaeological assessment of the Hub site. The barrister did not define exactly what this extra work should involve and acknowledged that it was a ‘counsel of caution’.
The examiner responded on the 2nd September. He accepted our suggestion for amendments of the environmental report concerning minerals safeguarding. However, he agreed with the barrister that the archaeological assessment was unsatisfactory and gave us three options: we could ask the examiner to give a final report now, withdraw the plan or undertake further archaeological assessment and re-write the Environmental report following this. We agreed on the third option.
We have been fortunate that the developer of the Hub Site, Thomas Homes, has recently undertaken a full archaeological assessment of the Hub site and they are prepared to share this with us once it has been accepted by HE and OCC. The report is expected within the next couple of weeks and we will put pressure on HE and OCC to give their opinion on this report quickly, given the delays to date. Once we have the updated Report, AECOM have agreed to liaise with Andrea Pellegram to update the environmental report. Unfortunately, the examiner has stated that the revised report will need to go to yet another consultation. However, this should be a formality given that OCC and HE will have already endorsed the report. We expect that Thomas Holmes will be in position to make a full planning application for the Hub site at about the same time as the NDP is completed. Therefore, overall, the delay to the NDP will not actually delay the planning application. The referendum is likely to be at the end of the year at the earliest.
I have had discussions with Locality and AECOM about these events. They feel that the current Environmental Report is satisfactory and proportionate for what a parish council could be expected to produce. Locality have identified similar problems of proportionality with other NDPs undergoing examination and I am co-operating with their enquiry into this.”
Peter Rose can be contacted at email@example.com.